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I'm just wondering: at which point do you have to deal with the editor, and what are the (possible) consequences? That is, when is the editor's involvement greatest? After or before a deal?

I'd suspect after, since before something is agreed upon, it would mean cost for the publisher who pays the editor's wage without any benefit, not even the potential benefit of making money from selling the book (potential because you can never be sure something sells, at least not with an unknown author)

But what "recourse" do you have then? The contract is signed... what could or does usually (as per said contract) happen if you don't agree to some or all of the editor's (proposed) changes?

Have googled (yes, just now) and haven't found much.

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Calling the editor "bane" of the author seems rather harsh. Most editors suggest changes because they want to improve the work. –  sjohnston Dec 20 '10 at 20:31
    
I've heard stories... the dad of a friend of mine in school was a translator (English to German, f). From what I heard from my friend, he wasn't too fond of editors. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '10 at 20:57
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Editors are the same as music producer. I'm a musician and trust me, most producers aren't out to hurt your music but to improve it before recording. Oftentimes this leads to results you couldn't fathom. Don't look at editors as a bane, look at them as a "producer" helping you to improve your work. I haven't submitted any work to an editor, but I know what it's like working with a music producer so I can at least draw some similarities. –  Nick Bedford Dec 21 '10 at 0:53
    
+1 Useful question: the anti-editor tone has worked out well as a foil for the responses. –  Charles Stewart Dec 21 '10 at 10:03
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-1 for the editors-are-horrible tone here. Proportionally, there are probably as many horrible editors as there are horrible writers. –  Neil Fein Dec 21 '10 at 18:24
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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Editors don't get involved until a contract is assigned and your manuscript is sent to them for editing. The amount of leeway you have regarding their changes is going to vary on a couple things. The first being your reasoning. Why don't you want to go with their change? If you have a justifiable reason (ie not "I just don't like it) then they'll most likely go with you. If for some reason the author and editor can't agree on something, it'll go up the chain to the Editor-in-Chief or another senior member of the editing staff. They tend to side with the author unless it's something that's going to reflect poorly on the manuscript or the publisher.

Most contracts have a stipulation in them that the publishing house cannot make major changes to the manuscript without permission from the author. This means they can't rewrite entire scenes, add/subtract a character, etc. without your okay. But this doesn't mean they need your permission to add a comma here or a semi-colon there.

If for some reason you just can't work with an editor, don't hesitate to email the publisher and request a different editor. Sometimes an author and a specific editor just don't mix well.

Generally, at least three different people should be looking over your manuscript to look for ways to improve it. The first person would be a copy editor or a content editor. They're going to look at the overall picture of the manuscript. Does a character magically disappear? Are there plot holes? Does this chapter add to the manuscript? The next person is the line editor. They're going to go over it line by line for grammar/punctuation/spelling. They will sometimes make content related notes if something jumps out at them. (IE something doesn't seem realistic, etc.) The last person is a proofreader. They're mostly looking for anything that the other two missed - namely, typos.

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at least three different people should be looking over your manuscript to look for ways to improve it - Back in the good old days, that was true. Today, publishers try to get away with less, except if they are using superior editing to mark themselves out. But a serious publisher should have both an assigned copy-editor and the project editor work through your text. –  Charles Stewart Dec 21 '10 at 9:33
    
With the economy taking a crap, publishers are trying to cut back on unnecessary staff. /Most/ reputable publishers still have an editing staff though. They might be overworked and had their pay cut, though. Proofers are generals unpaid now - they get a free copy of the book they proof as "payment." But if you find a publishing house with a crappy or non-existent editing department, run for the hills. Don't be afraid to ask what kind of editing services they have and if you want, make sure it's written into your contract what the publisher owes you in terms of behind the scenes work. –  Ralph Gallagher Dec 21 '10 at 17:15
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I think you're looking at this wrong.

A good editor helps you genuinely improve your book. If your editor wants changes that might, in some way, be detrimental to the book, you need a different editor.

I think about 90% of a decent editor's suggested changes to a book should make you think something like "Wow, that's a really great idea."

One of the major reasons to publish through "traditional" means is to get a good editor to help improve the book (if I ever publish my own book online, say, I'll still get a good editor to help me work on the final drafts).

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Publishing an eBook doesn't mean you don't have an editor. Unless you're publishing through a self-publishing site, publishers that put their books out in eBooks hire editing staff. I work on the editing staff for a publisher that is primarily an ebook publisher and only puts popular books in print. –  Ralph Gallagher Dec 21 '10 at 3:39
    
Thanks @Ralph, thought that was clearer, added clarification... –  MGOwen Dec 21 '10 at 5:47
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When

If you have an agent, they are quite likely to want the text to be edited before it is sent to the publisher, with many agents doing the editing themselves; you should consider hiring a freelance editor if you do not have an agent at this stage. Developmental editing is generally done before submission to potential publishers.

If the publisher wants your work, they will assign a project editor who will usually be the same person as the commissioning editor who accepted the text. They will be responsible for your manuscript through to when the book is launched, and they should appoint a copy-editor who does the lion's share of the editing of the text. The project editor should then do a second edit, and assign a typesetter to turn the text into a form that can be printed, and traditionally there was a third editing stage, proofreading, that checked that the whole editing process from submitted manuscript to print-ready text had not introduced any errors. Sophisticated automation in typesetting and diminished margins in publishing have led to this being seen as a dispensible step; in academic publishing, which tend to have a rather sloppy copy-editing stage, the proofreading stage is necessary and is typically "delegated" to the author.

Consequences

There is such a thing as over-editing, just as, per Nick's comment, in music there is such a thing as over-production. It generally happens when editors are not given enough time to get a feel for your style, and so don't respect it when editing.

It's your responsibility to check that you are happy with the edits. Ask to look over the edits in full (this should go without saying, but it doesn't). With Word, this should mean looking at a text with all changes tracked. Go over the edits one-by-one, if you can make the time. Ask to have any edits explained that you are unsure about. Discuss things until you are both happy with it, if there is time. This is time-consuming, especially if either you or the editor are inexperienced.

If your publisher takes responsibility for ensuring that your manuscript's editors have the right resources, you should be grateful to have such editorial attention. It is quite likely that no-one who reads your work will do so with as much close attention as your editors: they are among your best readers. In my experience, most writers do appreciate their editors.

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